Members of Lower House have resolved to summon Agriculture minister Gerardine Mukeshimana over delays to distribute seeds and fertilisers to farmers during the planting season ended last month.
The decision was made after the legislators were briefed on findings of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment which toured the country in September to assess the state of agriculture as farmers prepared for the planting season.
Under its agriculture subsidy scheme, commonly known as ‘Nkunganire’, the Ministry of Agriculture was expected to sponsor farmers who grow priority crops in the planting season and help them acquire fertilisers at lower prices whereby they pay between 15 and 25 per cent of the cost.
Those to benefit from the subsidy during the season include growers of maize, beans, wheat, soya, rice, Irish potatoes, cassava, banana, vegetables and fruits.
But because the government was also expected to distribute some of the seeds to farmers, such as maize, certain farmers ended up not using the fertilisers because they received seeds when it was too late to plant them.
The chairperson of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Environment, Ignatienne Nyirarukundo, said, the ministry had distributed maize countrywide 36.7 per cent, of the expected distribution coverage by the time the legislators toured the country.
The delay in distributing the seeds meant that some farmers went ahead and planted poor quality maize seeds instead of missing out on planting during the season.
“Traditionally, Rwandans were used to saving seeds on their own but now that the government is distributing them it should do it on time and avoid disappointing farmers. Some of them even think that one is considered careless in society when they fail to have seeds during a planting season,” Nyirarukundo said.
As the lawmakers in the committee kicked off their tour of the country in mid September, the Ministry of Agriculture had challenges in procurement of certain seeds needed for the planting season – with only about 50 per cent of the needed seeds of maize, wheat, and soy available – and the minister had promised that the remaining seeds would be available in the country by the end of the month.
Now they want the minister to explain to Parliament why distribution of the seeds and fertilisers delayed even as the government’s policy remains the promotion of agriculture and food security.
“Is the ministry able to explain why these delays happened? I think the ministry should be invited to talk about reasons for these problems,” said MP Anita Mutesi.
MP Jean Thierry Karemera said the ministry should be accountable and proposed that the Minister for Agriculture be summoned to Parliament and explain what her ministry is doing to address the issues that continue to dog the agriculture sector.
“The issues have been known for a long time now and the minister needs to explain what is being done to address them,” he said.
MP Pierre Claver Rwaka agreed, saying that there are many problems in the agriculture sector and the minister should appear before Parliament to explain what measures are in place to solve them.
MP Théoneste Karenzi posed: “With all these problems in the agriculture sector, how are we going to achieve food security?” .
MP Damien Nyabyenda added: “What challenges are there that make it impossible for seeds to be produced in Rwanda? The money we pay to import seeds can be given to our researchers here so they can produce the seeds locally”.
About 70 per cent of the Rwandan population are dependent on agriculture either through direct employment. The sector contributes 30 per cent to the country’s economy.